Friday, January 25, 2008

Writing on the Wall?

The big news today? Tony Giarratano re-injured his surgically repaired shoulder, and won't be ready in time for Spring Training next month. I kid, I kid. The Minnesota Twins have finally opened up their wallets to sign...Michael Cuddyer and Justin Morneau to new deals. Morneau who had just settled for $7.4 million to avoid arbitration with the Twins will get $80 million spread out over 6 years. Cuddyer received a 3-year deal for $23 million. While it is smart for the Twins to lock up these 2 players, in addition to Joe Mauer who is under contract through '11, to me this indicates a clear sign that Johan Santana is all but gone. Everyone has speculated and assumed that he would be traded this offseason, and at the latest July 31st, but there was always the option that they could dig deep and resign him. However, with their payroll as it is, the only way they could contend now and in the future is by signing their foundation players to long term deals rather than put all their eggs in Santana's basket. The Twins owner, Carl Pohlad, certainly has the money to increase the Twins budget and sign Santana, but there's been no indication of that scenario happening anytime soon. It seems to me with Cuddyer and Morneau having new deals, there's no long term future for Santana (already a given), and a solid foundation in Morneau, Mauer, Cuddyer, and Delmon Young, all locked up through at least 2011, a trade of Santana for multiple prospects and/or young players with under a year of service time would make even more sense than before. My quick take on this means that Santana is going to be dealt to the Mets in the near future for a prospect package centering around Fernando Martinez. It was a long shot that he'd stay with the Twins from the get-go, but with these new signings, the Twins have all but packed Santana's bags for him.

Friday, January 18, 2008

Quite the Challenge

The St. Louis Cardinals and Toronto Blue Jays have pulled off my favorite type of trade: the challenge trade. There hasn't been one of these in baseball since...well, since the Twins and Rays swapped Delmon Young and others for Matt Garza and others. The trade is Scott Rolen to the Blue Jays in exchange for Troy Glaus. The challenge in this trade is a bit different than the Minnestoa/Tampa Bay deal. This isn't a challenge of whether someone will meet their ceiling as a prospect, but who can stay healthier the longest.

I'm going to hold off on writing reports one each player as I did for the Nick Swisher deal, as these are two established Major League veterans.

My first take on this trade was that it was a slight win for St. Louis due to the contract situation. Troy Glaus is under contract through 2008 with a player option for 2009 at a clip of $11.25 million per season. A condition for this deal to go through was that the Cardinals were assured Glaus would pick up his option for 2009. Scott Rolen has 3 years left on his contract at the rate of $12 million per season. So Toronto is forced to assume an extra year of an injury prone 3rd Baseman, while St. Louis gets a power bat to put behind Albert Pujols for slightly less per year and one less year to pay.

In terms of how each of them play, it's been tough to tell the last couple of years as both have missed extensive time due to injury. Rolen has a chronic shoulder injury, and while he does provide a polished right handed hitter to a lefty heavy lineup in Toronto, there is a drop-off in terms of power and OBP. In addition to his ability to hit lefties much better than Glaus, one of Rolen's biggest attributes is his defensive ability. His addition to the Jays infield gives their groundball producing staff, a Gold Glove caliber defender, and possibly the best defensive infield in baseball if they opt to go with John McDonald at Shortstop. As I mentioned, Glaus gives the Cardinals, and Albert Pujols a bit of protection, as he provides the type of power production that Rolen could not. Glaus' injury woes have been in foot, and he recently underwent a surgery to take care of a ruptured plantar fascia, but the surgery isn't one that is recommended often, as it doesn't necessarily solve the problem. However, he is expected to be healthy a bit more often due to the switch from the Rogers Centre's hard turf to the new Busch Stadium's grass surface.

So it seems as though this trade would be fairly even, and possibly even in the Jays favor were we to assume complete health over the life of these contracts...but both these players have proven that that would be a foolhardy assumption to make. If Rolen is able to stay healthy, and return to his defensive prowess, the pendulum might swing toward the Toronto, but in all likelihood both players will miss time, and Glaus' injury has been one he could play through more often than not. Additionally, the contract situation is a clear win for St. Louis, and given those two factors, this makes the deal a win for the Cardinals, who once again should be contenders in baseball's worst division, while Toronto is taking one last shot at running with the big boys in (arguably) baseball's toughest.

Saturday, January 12, 2008

Milwaukee Mike

I've got to say; I absolutely love this signing for the Milwaukee Brewers. Mike Cameron may not play the Gold Glove defense he did several years ago, but he's still light years ahead of Bill Hall in Center Field. Cameron is set to sign with the Brew Crew for around $7 million dollars, but that won't be the real cost for the Brewers as Cameron is suspended for the first 25 games of the season resulting in a total salary of somewhere near $4.2 million. The are two reasons I love this deal for the Brewers:

1) This is the reason most everyone will like this deal. Signing Cameron drastically improves the defense (both infield and outfield) which was an Achilles heal for them last year. This allows Milwaukee to move Bill Hall (once again!) back to 3rd base for yet another crack at the infield, and the much ballyhooed Ryan Braun to Left Field where his poor footwork will be, at least slightly, masked. Cameron, while not the player he once was, is a fairly large upgrade in terms of defense from the still learning Hall, and while Hall hasn't played 3rd base in quite some time, I'm guessing a trash can would have a better fielding percentage* than Braun. While moving Braun to LF will, eventually, block the arrival of Milwaukee's newest heavy hitting draft pick, Matt Laporta, this is a problem most teams like to have and I'm guessing the Brew Crew are no exception.

2) While the defensive upgrade will likely take most of the spotlight from this signing, I actually think there is an offensive upgrade here as well. Cameron is a low average, high power hitter that plays a scarce position. Bill Hall had much better numbers when he was in the infield playing a more familiar position, so I'm assuming some level of re-acclimation to the infield, and thus a better season offensively. The Brewers lost Geoff Jenkins this offseason, and while they weren't reluctant to see him go, he did have production that needed to be replaced. I believe that Cameron can absolutely replace this offensive production while, as I mentioned, vastly improving the Brewers defense. In addition, I think it is highly unlikely we will see the same type of power out of SS J.J. Hardy, and so this power would need to be replaced and I think the addition of Cameron accomplishes that goal as well.

This signing not only improves the Brewers defense this year, but also their offense. All I can say is the Brewer pitchers are likely, or should be, rejoicing in their homes, and the fans of the Beermakers should look forward to battling the Cubs in August/September because it should be a tight race for the NL Central crown.

*Fielding percentage isn't the best, nor my favorite analysis tool to rate fielders but I thought the joke worked better this way.

P.S.- ESPN is reporting the deal to be worth $7 million with a vesting option (might be mutual, didn't quite catch it when they announced it), so his adjusted 2008 salary should be...readjusted. I'm too tired to do the math.

Thursday, January 10, 2008

Reconstruction in Camden Yards?

It hasn't been too long since Camden Yards was built, creating the modern standard for ballparks. It has however been a long time since the Orioles were competitive in the AL East, which is why there is a dire need for rebuilding inside the walls of Camden Yards. There has been talk recently of two separate deals involving prominent Baltimore Orioles. The first involves Canadian ace SP Erik Bedard to the Seattle Mariners for CF Adam Jones, C Jeff Clement, and 3B Matt Tuisasosopo, OR Bedard to the Mariners for Jones, and two of RHP Chris Tillman, SS Carlos Triunfel, and RHP George Sherrill.

If given the chance to get both Adam Jones and the 17 year-old SS Triunfel, the Orioles need to pull the trigger on this deal. Jones is a major league ready prospect with little service time, and a big bat- someone who the fans would come out to see. Triunfel on the other hand just played a full season between Hi and Low-A ball hitting a combined .296 which is tremendous for someone his age. He has yet to develop power, and is sure to lose speed as his body fills out, but he is exactly the type of player the Orioles should be targeting. Extremely high ceiling, and far away from the Majors. To get someone of Bedard's talent, they need a Major League ready player in return, which Jones is, but I think the key to this deal is someone like Triunfel who could kickstart a rebuilding of the Orioles minor league system at the lower levels. The Orioles will not be competitive throughout the rest of Bedard's contract, which has 2 years remaining, and they will likely be surpassed in the division by the Rays with or without Bedard, so they might as well commit to being competitive in the future instead of staying the below-average course they've been on.

If the deal involving Jones, Clement and Tuiasosopo is the one that gets the job done the Orioles will still have done well to receive talent like Jones and Clement, but it might not be the best offer out there. Tuiasosopo provides nothing but a fun name to say and is a marginal major league talent. Clement however has an impact bat, though it is a question as to whether he could remain at that Catcher position. Were he to be traded to the Orioles, he would most assuredly move to 1B because of the presence of Matt Wieters in the system. This would give the Orioles a future lineup with Markakis, Jones, Wieters and Clement, which isn't a bad thing to build around- though it does nothing for the future of their farm system.

The other rumored deal that involves an Oriole fan favorite is 2B Brian Roberts to the Cubs for SP Sean Marshall, SP Sean Gallagher and 2B/SS Ronny Cedeno. With the recent departure of Miguel Tejada, the Orioles do have a vacancy at SS, which Cedeno could fill, or he could slot into 2B to replace Roberts. Either way the O's are gaining a 24 year old who has struggled in his time in the Majors but posted good minor league numbers. I'm cautiously optimistic for Cedeno, especially if he can get out of Chicago. The two Seans are middle to back end of the rotation starters. I'd be higher on their prospects were they to stay in the National League, but if this trade were done in tandem with a Bedard trade I think it would be a good job by Andy Macphail to maintain a certain level of competitiveness while somewhat restocking the farm system. If the Bedard trade doesn't happen, it is still a defensible trade because they would be adding depth to their rotation, while taking a downgrade at second base, but at the same time saving themselves money as none of these players are even arbitration eligible. They would also keep all 3 players received under control for more years than Roberts is under control for.

I think it is imperative that the Orioles make these deals because they can get full value for Bedard because he is 2 years from free agency, and Roberts is really nothing more than a complementary piece, though he is a fan favorite (as well as an owner favorite). If MacPhail is able to complete both these deals for the return mentioned he will have done a good job of trading 2 players for 6-7 other players, and the impact talent received will all have less than 2 years of service time which is exactly what the Orioles need to begin the arduous process of rebuilding a broken franchise.

Monday, January 7, 2008

Expanding on Beane's Decision

As I wrote at the end of my admittedly too long first post, the reason I truly liked this trade from the A's perspective is because of what it does for their future, and how quickly they restocked their farm system. These may not have been the best quality players that Beane could have received for Swisher, but it was a great combination of quality and quantity. How I feel about it has a lot to do with what Beane received for Haren as well, a trade which I did not like at the time because I thought he took quantity over quality, and it would come back to bite him. However after watching his farm system gain this much depth after only two trades, it really is quite impressive.

The reason I write this is because I just read ESPN's Rob Neyer's post about the current state of the A's farm system. I highly suggest reading Neyer's take as he sums it all up quite nicely, and he shows us John Sickel's rankings both before and after the two trades. I'm not going to copy and paste it here, but essentially, through these two trades Daric Barton, who was the A's top prospect becomes their fourth best prospect, and only five of their original top 12 prospects remain there after these two trades. And once again, I'd like to reiterate that there is more restocking to come in the likely trades of Blanton and Street.

Saturday, January 5, 2008

Billy Beane vs. Ken Williams... Tie?

Who would have thought that in a battle of wits between Kenny Williams and Billy Beane, there would be no discernible edge in the aftermath of this trade. Beane has always been in a separate class from his other GM's in receiving talent in trades. I'd place him and Larry Beinfest in a class all their own. That's why I was nothing less than stunned when I learned that the trade between the soon-to-be Fremont A's and the Chicago Whitesox is, at least currently mutually beneficial. When a trade involves highly rated prospects it often can't be judged for true value until several years down the line, but it is only natural to try to determine who came out ahead directly after a trade happens.

The Trade: Oakland Acquires: Nick Swisher

Chicago Acquires: Gio Gonzalez (AA)
Fautino De Los Santos (Hi-A)
Ryan Sweeney (AAA)

Quick Take: This trade is something of a draw to me. The overall consensus of this trade seems to be that Billy Beane has once again worked his magic, but I think these people are both overvaluing the prospects received, and undervaluing Nick Swisher.

Chicago: The White Sox got something they desperately needed in this deal in a young position player capable of playing all three outfield spots as well as gold-glove caliber first base. Swisher is just 27 and is locked up for only $26 million through 2011, meaning he'll be with the White Sox through his prime at a reasonable cost. Not only do the White Sox get younger, something they desperately needed to do, but they get someone who excels at getting on base which they were absolutely dreadful at in 2007. While Swisher had an off year in 2007 he still recorded a .381 OBP despite hitting only .262. The White Sox finished dead last in baseball with a team on base percentage of .318, which would explain a lot of their troubles in scoring runs. Not only does Swisher become the best answer for the #2 hitter in the White Sox order, but he is also a viable option in both left and center field. He may not be the best defender in center, but he is adequate.

Oakland: The A's received Chicago's top 2 pitching prospects, plus Ryan Sweeney in this deal. This sounds far more impressive than it really is, as Chicago's farm system was nothing to write home about before this deal. Gio Gonzalez is the top prospect received in this deal although he doesn't necessarily have the highest ceiling. Gonzalez began in the White Sox farm system, was traded to the Phillies as part of the Jim Thome deal, returned as part of the Aaron Rowand deal, and is now being sent away once again. He doesn't project as much more than a #3 starter and that's if everything clicks. His best pitch is a 2 place 12-6 breaking ball that can absolutely devastate hitters. His fastball sits around 88-90, and has been clocked as low as 83-84 and as high as 96. He led the Minors in strikeouts this past year but that is deceiving. He was in Double-A, and many think he is major league ready. I think he will struggle at the higher levels because he pitches mainly off his curveball, when most pitchers use their fastballs to set up their strikeout pitches. In addition to the issue of pitching off his curveball not being as effective at higher levels, his preference to use his curve so much has resulted in less than ideal fastball command. He also features a good 78-81 mph change-up that is straight but has good arm action. He is also prone to getting rattled when he makes a mistake or something goes wrong behind him. These kind of mental lapses are part of what is holding him back from becoming a #2 type of pitcher.

The key to this deal may in the end be Fautino De Los Santos. He is ranked behind Gonzalez as a prospect right now because he is further away from the Majors, but he has more upside and will likely be the biggest factor in how this trade turns out for the A's. De Los Santos owns a power repertoire featuring a 92-96 mph fastball with late life, and a hard curveball that some have been calling a slider. The curveball already grades out better than average but is inconsistent according to ESPN/Scouts Inc's Keith Law (subscription required). He has higher upside than Gio Gonzalez, but must develop a third offering in order to make it through Major League lineups enough to be a successful starter. What is exciting about him is not only his power pitches but the control he displayed in Low and Hi-A this past season. He posted a combined WHIP of .92 and a K/9 ratio of just over 11.

Ryan Sweeney comes over to Oakland after not taking advantage of his opportunities in Chicago. He was rushed through Chicago's system after a quick start several years ago, and has never really recovered from that. He was originally a second round pick, and shows plus pull power in batting practice, but that has yet to translate to any sort of power in games. He will most likely get a chance to compete for a spot on the A's roster to begin the year but it would be no surprise to see him return to Triple-A for a little more seasoning.

Summary: I think this trade works out well for both teams. Nick Swisher is a boon to the White Sox for all the aforementioned reasons, as well as his preparing them for a transition from older to younger players over the next few years. On the other hand I think this is a great decision more than a great return on the part of Billy Beane and the Oakland A's. The A's will not be competitive in the next few years, and the farm system has been barren as the last few drafts have not been kind to Beane. They are lacking in both position and pitching prospects, but by taking quantity over quality in the Haren trade, and finding a nice combination of both in this deal, he has done a nice job of adding both quality and depth to his farm system and he still has nice chips to deal in Joe Blanton, Huston Street and possibly Eric Chavez.